Elections in France — the New Popular Front

Image: Ömer Gülen


The French left has been demonized, but its agenda is realistic, not radical

The first round of legislative elections in France produced an unprecedented wave of support for the far right. Next Sunday, July 7th, the National Rally (RN) and its allies can potentially come to power. Not just with a relative majority, but – and there is a significant probability of this – with an absolute majority.

Some might argue that the far right has arrived and that we should simply get used to it. Far-right parties have won elections in recent years in other European countries, including Italy and the Netherlands. But we can't get used to it. A victory for the far right represents a major threat to our basic social contract and our freedoms.

We face the implementation of policies that discriminate against foreigners, migrants, women, minorities and more. Lacking a credible economic platform, the far right will return to the only thing it knows – exacerbating tensions and the politics of hate.

What is the alternative? The left-wing alliance, the New Popular Front (NFP), is France's best chance.

This alliance is inspired by the Popular Front – which in 1936 emerged under the threat of fascism to govern France. This left-wing coalition of socialists and communists represented real change for the working classes, with policies such as the introduction of two-week paid holidays and a law limiting the work week to 40 hours.

Such social change was made possible by the electoral victory, but also by the demands of civil society and pressure from unions, which organized a wave of factory occupations. There was a clear sociopolitical competition between workers and the ruling classes that led to a political conflict between the left and the right.

The New Popular Front is following a similar path today, with ambitious policies to improve the purchasing power of poor and lower middle class people. These reforms include a substantial increase in the minimum wage, price-indexed wages, and free school lunches.

Most importantly, the New Popular Front wants to prioritize investment in the future by increasing public spending on infrastructure – across the country, including in isolated rural areas – as well as on health, education and research. This is the only coherent way to plan for the future and increase labor productivity, which under Emmanuel Macron has fallen by 5% since 2019.

Nova Frente Popular's detailed economic manifesto was released last month with full costs. Because – and this is new – the New Popular Front's plans are balanced from a budgetary point of view: investment in future growth and productivity, as well as in energy and climate transition, could be made affordable through progressive taxation of wealth, the introduction of an exit tax, effective taxation of multinational companies and a long-awaited fight against dumping social, fiscal and environmental.

This program would also give workers more power within the companies that employ them by improving corporate governance (for example, reserving a third of seats on company boards for employee representatives, following similar provisions that have existed for decades in the Nordic and in Germany).

These plans are the complete opposite of the path followed by Emmanuel Macron since 2017. His agenda has exacerbated income and wealth inequality, while there has been no change in investment, job creation or growth.

To combat support for the far right, Macron's strategy was to seek support from both the center-right and center-left. In practice, this has increasingly looked like a coalition of wealthy voters, and as recent elections have shown, you cannot sustainably govern a country with such a narrow electoral base.

Some now seek to scare left and center-left voters by claiming that the New Popular Front's program for government would be dangerous for the French economy. They are wrong. We are not claiming that this manifesto is perfect – how could it be, given that Emmanuel Macron only allowed three weeks to organize for the elections? But in the historical context, it should be considered a pragmatic and social democratic set of proposals aimed at reducing inequalities and preparing for the future. There is nothing radical about this agenda.

Perhaps most importantly, this program will allow the left to try to win back votes in rural areas and smaller towns, where people have gradually turned to the far right.

Last Sunday, the National Rally it obtained a vote share 1,6 times higher in small and medium-sized cities (50.000 inhabitants or less) than in large urban centers (with populations above 250.000). The opposite applies to the left. We have digitized all commune-level results for legislative elections since 1848, and we have not seen such a large geographic gap in voting patterns since the late XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries.

In towns with populations between 20.000 and 30.000, such as Hénin-Beaumont, a former coal mining town in the northeast, and the electoral district of Marine Le Pen, the National Rally gets 60% of the votes. Even in more populous cities like Cambrai, in a region that has suffered major industrial shutdowns in recent decades and is relatively poorly served by infrastructure such as hospitals, universities and public transport links, Marine Le Pen's party is achieving scores above 40 %.

As we show in our book A History of Political Conflict, people in smaller cities and rural areas are drawn to the far right mainly for socioeconomic reasons: they lack purchasing power, suffer more from a lack of investment in public infrastructure, and feel that they have been abandoned by governments of all types in recent decades .

The New Popular Front policy platform credibly addresses how to finance an inclusive investment strategy. In contrast, the far right argues in favor of repealing the existing tax on real estate billionaires. It claims it will finance its policies by targeting foreigners and welfare recipients, but this will simply generate more economic disillusionment and more tensions.

The only threat in France next Sunday is the one posed by the victory of the extreme right. We hope that centrist voters understand what is at stake and move back to the left.

*Julia Cagé is professor of economics at Sciences Po Paris.

*Thomas Piketty is director of research at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and professor at the Paris School of Economics. Author, among other books, of Capital in the XNUMXst century (Intrinsic).

Translation: website team Ihu.Unisinos.

Originally published in the newspaper The Guardian.

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